Random's Stylized Bulldog

Guest Review by Erwin van Hove

The following review was provided by friend and fellow collector Erwin van Hove. Erwin's tastes often run rather parallel to my own, making him too often a fierce adversary in our never ending struggle to find the next great pipe. Here, he's beaten me to it once again. -glp

Back in the early days of Random's career, I bought one of his pipes, the #14. Though its looks with its deeply carved finish were quite weird, this pipe appealed to me. Moreover I was curious to find out how this OnePiece pipe, with such an unconventional airway, fit and stem, would smoke. I'll confess that I didn't exactly have high hopes. I was wrong. The pipe smoked perfectly well.

Since those days, the Random''s work has clearly evolved. Though his pipes still have a highly personal style, they have lost their rustic, even primitive appearance. The shapes look more harmonious and the carved finish has been replaced most of the time by rusticated or semi-rusticated ones. Without having become a middle-of-the-road carver, Random can now appeal to a broader public.

When I first saw the #37, I thought it was a nice looking pipe. Then I moved on. Until I heard from several people that this pipe had been taken to the Richmond show where it had been examined by quite a few pipe makers and collectors. I heard the pipe had been heavily criticized: the shape was so-so, the internals could have been better finished, the bit was way too thick, and above all, what the heck was this weird ridge in the tobacco chamber, just above the air hole? Random was shocked, since he considered this to be his best pipe ever. While trying to see for myself on the pics on Random's website what all the criticism was about, suddenly I felt fascinated by this pipe. I had to have it, criticism or not.

I don't regret my sudden whim.

I can easily understand that Random pipes are love-or-hate pipes. I for one love mine. The pics on Random's website don't do this puppy justice. The shape has a nice, uninterrupted flow from button to bowl. The symmetry of the paneled top is well executed. The combination of smooth lines and textured surfaces works beautifully. The chocolate colour oozes coziness. And to top it off, the rustication work is remarkable and gorgeous. It has a leathery look and feel that is the result of a very labour-intensive process, something very rare in this price.

I am a big fan of very thin, flat bits with unobtrusive buttons. When I looked at Random's bit, I was shocked by what I saw - gee, this funnel-shaped bit looks huge! On the other hand, I saw the shank/stem joint was exemplary, being barely visible. I am a clencher, so I put the bit in my mouth and tried it out between my front teeth and in the corners of my mouth. It didn't feel like the bits I'm used to, and true, it felt a bit thicker than the bits of my high grades. Yet, it wasn't annoying. On the contrary, the rounded off bit and button shape felt pleasant, even sensual. Since that first time, I've grown to like this bit even more. I've been smoking this pipe while taking long walks, keeping this pipe in my mouth for an hour and a half. It always feels comfortable. It's different, but it works. So does the Ultem material, which I actually like better than lucite. One aspect of the stem-work still could be improved: it could do with some more polishing. I had to apply a bit of graphite to the tenon in order to make it turn more smoothly into the mortise, and under a light source one can see (but not feel) quite a few microscratches on the surface of the stem. On the other hand the tenon/mortise fit is very well executed without any gap leaving room for condensation.

When examining the tobacco chamber, I could understand the reactions of the people in Richmond. Weird stuff! A big, funneled air hole, deep down in the bowl, almost in the center of the chamber. And above this funnel, kind of a little ridge. What the heck is that for? Can't Random do anything by the book? Apparently not. If you want to find out what this mad scientist is doing different and why, read what he has to say.

A lot of theories and personal views. This doesn't impress me. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Well, I've been eating this pudding for a couple of weeks now. Here are my impressions.

Since I have become the owner of this pipe, I've smoked it each and every day - not my habit. Even when I am breaking in a pipe, I usually don't smoke it every day. But this one calls my name constantly: Because the draw is perfect - all I have to do is to breathe naturally; because it smoulders so slowly and evenly; because I've never had to relight it more than once; because the tobacco burns down to practically nothing; but, most of all, because it produces such a well-defined, broad taste. With his very big airways and his big funneled air holes and his wide open slots and his weird ridges in the tobacco chamber, Random might be doing some seriously eccentric stuff, but it works. It really works.